Extending fall livestock grazing with cover crops can cut feeding costs in half.
By: Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State University Extension
In early August the Nicklas Family no tilled a seven species cover crop grazing mix into wheat stubble. With the great growing conditions they have received, they plan to start grazing the sixteen acre field with beef cows in Oct. and will continue into early winter as long as Mother Nature will allow. With four of the seven species being winter hardy bi-annuals or perennials, they hope to continue grazing the mix in April next spring before planting the field to a grain crop in May. For each month that they can graze this cover crop with their beef herd, Michigan State University Extension Educators estimate that they will save $30 per cow per month in feed costs alone.
The total financial benefit of this practice will be even greater as the cow herd will be recycling the forage into a truly green manure, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil. The remaining grazed cover crop stubble and re-growing plants will provide winter protection on the soil by reducing soil erosion. After spring grazing, the plant stems and roots will add more organic matter to the soil as well as provide a source of nitrogen for next year’s grain crop. This compounding benefit of adding plant materials into the soil, and the animal manure on top of the soil, is a great method of soil improvement. It will increase soil organic matter which will increase soil fertility, and improve the water holding capacity of the soil. It also provides stimulus for soil organisms like earth worms and other microscopic organism that improve soil quality even more.
University research has estimated that a practice like this can easily increase the soil organic matter, and thus fertility of the soil, by $60 – 80 per acre per year. This fertility improvement easily covers the cost of seed and the no till drilling operation. Thus the feed savings for the cow herd of an estimated $30 per cow per month grazed is pure savings. The major risks of the system is a dry fall leading to poor growth, or an early winter that could reduce the grazing days.
An evening pasture walk will be held on Thursday, Oct. 9 from 6 - 8 p.m. to showcase the great advantage of grazing multi-species cover crop mixes in the fall and spring season. The event will take place at the Michelle and Chad Nicklas Farm at 16134 Schofield Rd., Hersey, MI in Osceola County.
The walk is sponsored MAEAP, MSU Extension and NRCS Offices of Lake and Osceola Counties. It is part of a Soil Health Summer Series of Meetings that these organizations sponsored and Michigan Farm Bureau supported with a financial grant. USDA programs are open to all people. For more information contact me at the MSU Extension Office at 231-832-6139 or Greg White at the NRCS Office at 231-832-5341. Anyone needing special accommodations to attend the walk should notify any of these agencies before the day of the event.